Priest caught in political fire reinstated as House chaplain

Free Press wire reports | 5/11/2018, 8:52 p.m.


Speaker of the House Rep. Paul Ryan has announced he will reinstate the Rev. Patrick Conroy as chaplain for the House of Representatives after the controversial Jesuit priest challenged the stated rationale for removing him.

“I have accepted Father Conroy’s letter and decided that he will remain in his position as Chaplain of the House,” Mr. Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, confirmed in a May 3 press release. He said his original decision was based on his “duty to ensure that the House has the kind of pastoral services that it deserves,” but did not elaborate.

Nevertheless, the outgoing speaker maintained that “this body is not well served by a protracted fight over such an important post.” He ended by stating he will have a personal meeting with Rev. Conroy to resolve the matter.

Mr. Ryan asked Rev. Conroy to resign last month in a move many religious conservatives welcomed over past statements calling Catholic teaching on homosexuality a “dead end,” as well as tax reform comments during a House prayer that critics said were overly political. 

But Mr. Ryan never cited either example, saying only that he acted on reports that Rev. Conroy didn’t serve House personnel’s “pastoral needs.”

On May 3, Rev. Conroy rescinded his resignation in a letter claiming that Mr. Ryan’s chief of staff Jonathon Burks had given him completely different reasons, including that he was too political and that it was time for a non-Catholic chaplain. Mr. Burks responded that he “strongly disagree[s] with Father Conroy’s recollection of our conversation.”

Rev. Conroy argued that he deserved the opportunity to address specific complaints about his job performance, and that if Mr. Ryan still wished him gone, he would have to fire him outright.

His letter also said he was retracting the resignation “upon advice of counsel,” potentially hinting that he would take legal action if necessary.

Mr. Ryan received significant resistance from both political parties over the move, including a letter from 148 House members. Much of the criticism came from professed Catholic Democrats who also reject their church’s teachings on abortion and sexuality. 

Democrats alleged that Mr. Ryan, despite being Catholic himself, made the move to appease the Republicans’ supposed anti-Catholic bias. As evidence, they cited a suggestion by Republican Rep. Mark Walker of North Carolina, one of the lawmakers tasked with finding a replacement, that the next chaplain should have a wife and children, giving him first-hand experience with some of the family issues on which lawmakers might seek guidance.

Rev. Conroy has served as House chaplain since Mr. Ryan’s predecessor, Republican Rep. John Boehner, nominated him in 2011. Mr. Ryan announced in April he will not seek re-election to office in November. His term ends in January 2019.